Breakthrough CSR & ESG Communications

Rich Maiore
Rocket Social Impact

It’s never been more of a priority and more of a challenge to reach stakeholders—employees, consumers, and investors— with your CSR & ESG messages.

Why tell your story?

  • 45% of a “brand’s image” to a consumer is based on how a brand represents and shares about themselves​.
  • Meet stakeholder expectations:
    • 89% of consumers and 92% of employees expect companies to communicate and engage with them around CSR
    • 73% of investors say CSR & ESG efforts affect their investment decisions

What are the challenges to telling your story?

  • The media landscape is changing. With fewer outlets and reporters, it’s more difficult to get your story heard.
  • People are now getting more of their information from peer groups and social media rather than traditional media.
  • The workplace is also changing as more employees are working remotely or in a hybrid environment.
  • And there’s a LOT of competition for “mind share”. Employees receive an average of 140 emails, and 48 CSR-related media announcements every day.

So how are we doing? Overall…not great.

  • 71% of consumers are confused or unmoved by messages companies use for their CSR efforts and impacts. ​
  • 57% of consumers can’t name a brand taking care of the environment. ​
  • 54% can’t name a brand giving back to the community. ​
  • Only 12% of employees know the CSR mission or focus areas of their workplace

​We need a new CSR & ESG Communications Playbook!

CSR and ESG practitioners must rethink the current approach and challenge some assumptions.

​Assumption #1: We need lofty and elegant CSR & ESG mission statements and messages.

You don’t! You have on average 12 seconds to make an impression so:

  • Start by articulating your unique role.
  • Be concise. Use shorter, stronger statements.
Assumption #2: CSR & ESG content needs to be data-heavy and formal.

It doesn’t – instead focus on people and their stories. To move someone to action, you must move them emotionally. 

It’s a constant challenge to reach and engage employees/volunteers. ​Increasingly companies are relying on nonprofit partners to generate compelling content. This content is typically focused on volunteerism and social impact and shared with employees and members, including beneficiary stories and volunteer stories.

Are you always trying to come up with new ideas and stories to share? Create a story bank to pull from:

Success Stories: Share stories of individuals or communities that have benefited from your organization’s programs and services. Highlight the positive changes they’ve experienced because of your work.​

Volunteer Stories: Feature the stories of dedicated volunteers who contribute their time and skills to a non-profit you support. Explain the impact they’ve made.​

Donor Stories: Profile donors who have made significant contributions. Explain their motivations for giving and how their support has made a difference.​

Partnerships and Collaborations: Highlight successful partnerships with other organizations, businesses, or government agencies. Share the outcomes and benefits of these collaborations.​

​Assumption #3: Press releases are critical for media outreach.

The media landscape has changed, and your communications plan must change with it. Savvy communicators must now use a multi-channel approach:

  • Embrace influencers: these may include employee ambassadors and ERGs for word-of-mouth recognition.
  • Employ thought leadership: this can take many forms including social media activity, op-eds, webcasts, podcasts, published research, conferences, and other events.
  • Explore paid partnerships: including advertorials, featured content, and executive profiles. 
Assumption #4 We’ll reach employees through email, Intranet, and posters in the lunchroom,

You won’t. Post-COVID, employee communication is a challenge, meaning you need to think creatively to reach employees through a multi-channel approach including:

  • Slack
  • Leveraging ERGs/BRGs
  • Social media groups
  • Creative TikTok videos
  • Postcards to employees’ homes
  • Enlisting influencers and employee ambassadors 
Assumption #5 – Annual reports are critical.

The truth is that only about 17-20% of consumers and employees read annual reports. Instead think frequent, short-form updates. These are much more digestible, making consumers and employees more likely to pay attention. Short-form updates are also more cost-effective for you than an annual report.

Assumption #6 – We can avoid controversial social issues.

Maybe! But consumers and employees increasingly expect and want companies to act on a range of social issues—Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, racial justice, or state legislation such as the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law. This forces companies to consider and respond to polarizing social issues, and companies are finding that both action and non-action are fraught with risk​.

Questions to ask before weighing in on an issue:

  • Is the issue directly linked to your business?
  • What will our stakeholders think?
  • Do we have credibility to speak out?

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